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A Beacon Of Light… The Three Stages Of The Church

November 11, 2020 Frontpage No Comments

By FR. RICHARD D. BRETON JR.

(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He is currently the parochial vicar of St. Andrew Parish in Colchester and St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Lebanon. He received his BA in religious studies and his MA in dogmatic theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.)

On October 31, 2020 the world celebrated the secular holiday that we call Halloween. When I was a child, I never really knew the significance of Halloween, except that it was a day to dress up in funny costumes and get candy. Halloween, however, was the day the evil spirits and demons would wander around, trying to pull us into temptation. It was the precursor to the day that followed, All Saints.
As I grew and my faith increased, I realized that the celebration of Halloween distracts us from living the faith. I always chose costumes that depicted Catholicism. My costumes ranged from priest, pope, and even St. Francis, with coffee grains glued to my face resembling a beard. The Lord was constantly leading me toward the spiritual life. I wasn’t celebrating the gruesome secular holiday of Halloween; I was celebrating All Hallow’s Eve.
As November approaches, however, we come to the end of the Church’s Liturgical Year. November is a time when we are invited to reflect on the three stages of the Church, namely, the Church Militant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Triumphant.

Saints Of Our Time

One of my former assignments, St. Joseph Church in North Grosvenordale, Conn., is a treasury of sacred art. From the French Victorian painted ceilings, to the exquisitely hand-carved statuary and the sanctuary with its mahogany altar rail and towering high altar, the artwork transforms the faithful into a supernatural encounter with the Divine. Nestled in the back of the church is a three-dimensional raised mural depicting the three stages of the Church.
These three stages are central to our understanding of who we are as the Church. Within this mural are three distinct, yet connected, scenes. At the top we see God seated on His Throne with all the angels and saints hovering above. We see the angels with musical instruments and a celebration of the heavenly Kingdom. In the middle of the mural is a beautiful scene of a priest offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the High Altar, and he is surrounded by the faithful in prayer.
On the bottom we see an image of Purgatory, with souls reaching for Heaven. They are surrounded by fires of purification. This mural was one of the pieces of sacred art that always reminded me about the stages of the Church.
With the celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints, we focus our attention on the Church Triumphant. When we say the Church Triumphant, we are referring to those saints, and souls, who are enjoying the heavenly Kingdom. Sometimes it is difficult to comprehend the Church Triumphant, because we think of saints as far from our reach.
On the contrary, we can look to several saints of our time who are part of the Church Triumphant. One is St. Teresa of Calcutta, affectionately known as Mother Teresa. In 1995, Mother Teresa was invited to New Bedford, Mass., to open a Convent of the Missionaries of Charity. Part of the celebration included a visit from St. Teresa.
By the grace of God, I had the privilege of meeting her! It was during the Mass at the sign of peace. I was in the front row on the left side of the main aisle. As I turned to me left across the aisle there she was, St. Teresa, and as I motioned to offer a sign of peace she came out of the aisle and we met halfway. We embraced and offered the sign of peace.
What was interesting was that she spoke to me in a very loving way. She encouraged me in my vocation and assured me of her prayers. I gave her a hug, totally afraid of breaking this little holy nun, and returned to my pew. Little did I then know, I was hugging a saint of God! We are blessed to have the entire communion of saints interceding for us before God.
On October 31, 2020 the Church celebrated a new blessed among the heavenly choirs. Blessed Michael McGivney, a simple parish priest and founder of the Knights of Columbus, was an outstanding example of the Church at prayer. Fr. McGivney was courageous in his defense of the faith. His fortitude enabled him to move the most difficult souls to the Lord. He encouraged a revival of true parish life, united in prayer and action.
As the faithful we are encouraged to pray through the intercession of these saints and blessed holy ones, who have all given us an example to follow in living our own faith. In union with them, we also participate in constant prayer for the souls in Purgatory. Our prayers are needed to assist those on the brink of Heaven, but because of the need to fix their imperfections and earthly blemishes, they are making amends for their earthly errors.
In addition to the Church Triumphant, celebrated on All Saints’ Day, we also commemorate the Church Suffering, or the Church Penitent. November 2 is the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, commonly known as All Souls’ Day. This is the day when we remember all the faithfully departed, but more important, the souls in Purgatory.
All Souls’ Day is a day when priests can celebrate three Masses. The first Mass is offered for the Holy Father’s Intentions, followed by the second offered for All the Souls, and finally, the third Mass is offered for a particular intention. Each year when I celebrate All Souls’, I take all the names of the people whose funerals I celebrated and place them on the altar for the entire month of November. Each year I look forward to celebrating All Souls’ Day. It is one day of the year when I wear my black vestments to commemorate the importance of the faithful departed.
It is also a day when we are encouraged to visit the cemetery and offer prayers to all the people buried there. Whenever I visit a cemetery, I see a field of hope! Hope that one day these mortal bodies will be reunited with the spiritual body at the Second Coming.
The third stage of the Church is the Church Militant. Sometimes it is also called the Church praying. We are the Church Militant! Every one of us makes up this part of the Church. This is especially accomplished when the whole Church is united in prayer. In 2013, I visited the Eternal City of Rome. This visit coincided with the Anniversary of my Ordination to the Priesthood.
While in Rome, I was able to participate in the Celebration of Corpus Domini, or as we call it Corpus Christi, with the Holy Father. This was a beautiful example of the Church at prayer, or the Church Militant. The Pope, bishops, priests, religious, and the laity all worshiping together. This is the most visible sign of the unity of the Church at prayer.
In today’s world we need reminders of the importance of the Church at prayer. We especially are called to unite in prayer against the evil of religious persecution.

Under Attack

The recent attacks in Nice, France, are a visible example of how much we need to pray. To think that a woman was beheaded, and two others killed during the attack on the Notre Dame Basilica on Nice! The Church Militant must pray harder because we are under the attack of the Evil One.
The three stages of the Church, when united, present us with the perfect example of how to live the faith. United with the saints and blessed, the souls in Purgatory and the faithful, we experience the fullness of the Church. Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, Pray for Us!
May the Souls of All the Faithfully Departed, Rest in Peace!

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